Baltic German alleged war criminal memorial planners forgo state support

Roman von Ungern-Sternberg in traditional Mongolian garb during the Russian Civil War.
Roman von Ungern-Sternberg in traditional Mongolian garb during the Russian Civil War. Source: Baron Ungern-Sternberg, meteoric nutter Commons

A group planning to erect a statue to a member of the Baltic German nobility in Estonia who, according to reports, engaged in war crimes during the Russian Civil War, says it will forgo €45,000 in state support for the project, citing media slander of his legacy.

The NGO, called Ungern Khaan, only founded just under a month ago, says that it will rely on donations for the memorial, either a statue or other installation, of Roman von Ungern-Sternberg (1886-1921) instead.

Ungern Khaan representative Fedor Stomakhin said Tuesday evening that: "The decision has been made in the light of media slander, which is based on sensationalism, not historical research - the baron has been portrayed as a warlord and criminal, not the liberator of Mongolia. We have made this decision in order to not give any reason for the further defamation of the baron in the media."

Daily Postimees reported Tuesday that von Ungern-Sternberg's activities in the Russian Civil War (1917-1923), where he was heralded as the liberator of Mongolia following an invasion by Chinese troops, included the slaughter of Jews fleeing the battlefront.

Von Ungern-Sternberg, who was born in Austria but spent much of his childhood in Tallinn, then known as Reval, and other parts of Estonia, had reportedly wanted to set up a Buddhist-style theocracy in Mongolia, and also Transylvania, which became incorporated into Romanian territory around the same time.

Funds were part of coalition's €6.4-million protection money pool

Ungern Khaan had been awarded the €45,000 under a controversial state "protection money" scheme, which sees projects of political parties' choice, often comprising regional social, sporting or religious groups, associations or infrastructure, receive the funds ahead of the passing of the state budget later in December. As such it is often seen as greasing the wheels for the budget's passing at the Riigikogu.

The Reform Party abstains from the practice of "protection money" (Estonian: "Katuseraha", literally "Roof money"), referring to it as a type of corruption.

While parties normally allocate their funds separately, this year, the three coalition parties, Center, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, have done so jointly, to the tune of €6.4 million. Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDE) also takes part in the scheme, and had €300,000 to dole out this year.

While it is not clear which party or which politician sponsored the Ungern Khaan bonus, due to the pooling of resources by the three coalition parties this year, Fedor Stomakhin is reportedly a member of EKRE's youth wing, Sinine äratus.

Ungern Khaan says it will now waive the funds following the media reports.

Von Ungern-Sternberg served as a White Army cavalry officer in the civil war, having previously served as Russian Imperial Army officer prior to the 1917 revolution (as did Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Finland's commander-in-chief during World War Two – ed.).

He led the Whites' Asiatic Cavalry Division, which expelled Republic of China troops from Mongolia in February 1921.

Von Ungern-Sternberg's secret police chief, Leonid Sipailo, reportedly ordered the torture and execution of large numbers of people during the conflict, along with over 800 allegedly executed on Von Ungern-Sternberg's orders alone. Von Ungern-Sternberg was captured and executed by firing squad by Red Russian forces, in September 1921.

The justification for his commemoration in Estonia has largely revolved around his childhood years spent there, at a time when the country was part of the Tsarist empire, as well as claims that the section of society he represents, i.e. the Baltic German nobility, which ceased to exist following the civil war and Estonia's concurrent War of Independence, has been under-represented in Estonia to date.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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